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Mala Wailea

New restaurant boasts slew of celeb owners, but real story is about Chef Mark Ellman

May 22, 2008
By CARLA TRACY, Dining Editor
Sure, the buzz on Mala Wailea is the backers are movie stars, rockers and famous businessmen. One of them, rock legend Alice Cooper, will host their grand opening bash June 19 benefitting the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. But the real story behind this impressive new hot spot is Mark Ellman.

Mark is one of the 12 original Hawaii Regional Cuisine chefs who put our state on the world map of great food places in the early ’90s. In fact, the group was inducted just this past week into the Chefs Hall of Fame at Leeward Community College on Oahu.

The cookbook author also owns Mala Ocean Tavern and Penne Pasta in Lahaina and is partners in Maui Tacos of Hawaii.

He’s a Mercedes smart-car kind of guy. One who walks regularly and practices yoga, loves his wife, Judy, and his kids. They travel all over the world to exotic places — this year they are thinking about Sabah and Sarawak, both Malaysian states in Borneo.

As we chatted in the oceanfront lounge Wednesday, Mark beamed about all of the press his original Mala is getting this month in top national publications.

“We’re very lucky Los Angeles magazine just named Mala Ocean Tavern and Four Seasons Resort Maui as “25 reasons to get out of town,” he says. “And Conde Nast put us in its ‘Ultimate Hawaii step- by-step itinerary.’”

Mala Wailea has, “The same menu and same philosophy of local natural and organic products in an ocean setting. It’s like 99 percent the same as Lahaina,” Mark says. But he creates a few specials, too. The entire right side of the menu changes daily. “Of course, this is in a hotel, so we want to cater to all of the guests as well — mom and pop and grandpa. I’ve never worked in a hotel situation before and all of the rules and regulations are really trippy.”

Keeping it all consistent on a day-to-day basis is Mark’s Executive Chef Corey Waite, formerly of the Prince Hotels and more recently, Tommy Bahama.

“His repertoire and mine are in the same zone,” says Mark. “We like to do Mediterranean, Latino, Pacific Rim. We’re big on flavor. We like fun cuisines to both cook and to create.”

Sit in the lounge, and enjoy a handmade mojito or sangria or try a nice glass of wine from the 16-spigot cruvinet. Taste the complimentary chips with yummy edamame puree over fresh tomatillo salsa.

Crunch calamari with aioli and mojo verde, and sugar-snap peas with ginger and sambal. Savor lamb pita, garlic-cheese flatbread and house olives. You will find Kobe beef burgers as well as adult mac and cheese.

Mark also features vegan dishes such as Balinese gado gado salad and runs weekly specials from TV personality and vegan Chef Renee Loux Gordon, the wife of partner Shep Gordon.

“We have a box on the menu with two of her inspired dishes and we change them every week or two,” he says. “Our mandate is to use organic produce as much as is humanly possible.”

The celebrity owners like to eat light but big on taste and they can do that with many of Mark’s and Renee’s dishes. They like to sit in the Buddha Room, a private dining area seating 24 people.

“Anyone can rent it,” says Mark. “A doctor did his slide show in there. We offer two waiters and a busser and we even design custom menus to suit you.”

During the Maui Film Festival in Wailea June 11 to 15, Mala will be “party central.” Moki Chong Kee is the general manager, and he’ll be walking around and making sure everything is just so.

“It will be a great place to hang out because the hotel is putting up a lot of the stars,” says Mark. We have lovely cocktail waitress and beautiful sunsets, too.”

Shuttles will run back and forth to Celestial Cinema, and Mark’s Maui Tacos and Penne Pasta will each cater one of the film nights. Mala will do a booth at A Taste of Wailea. “It’s a great feeling to make people happy,” he says. “We’re here to please people.”

Article Photos

Chef-partner Mark Ellman presents appetizers such as garlic-cheese flatbread (clockwise from bottom), shrimp cocktail, Big Island Alii mushrooms in garlic and parsley a la plancha, gado gado salad with coconut peanut sauce and organic beet ravioli with pine nut ricotta.

The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

Fact Box

Mala Wailea fast facts

• Where: Lobby level of Wailea Marriott Resort Hotel & Spa, which just underwent a $72 million renovation.

• Hours: Open daily for breakfast, 6:30 to 11 a.m.; dinner, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.; lounge 5 to 10 p.m.

• Three courses: For $38, start with soup or farmer’s salad in maple dijon dressing. Choose from organic chicken, prime rib or mahimahi a la plancha. Top it with a specialty dessert.

• For reservations: Call Mala at 875-9394.



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